mckeeve flame


A former Jones Day partner has admitted telling his client to "burn" evidence, but claims he only did it to to protect his wife.

Raymond McKeeve gave the instruction in the course of advising Today Development Partners, a grocery business set up by Ocado co-founder Jonathan Faiman.

Ocado sued Faiman and another of its former employees, Jon Hillary, for allegedly misappropriating confidential information to benefit TDP, and the online grocers obtained a search order against the pair. 

McKeeve, who was Jones Day's leading private equity lawyer in London before he left the US firm in 2020, told the High Court he "panicked" when Ocado demanded access to messages exchanged between McKeeve, Faiman and Hillary on the secure messaging app used by TPD, and instructed the company's IT manager to "burn" it.

TDP settled Ocado's corporate espionage claim for £1.75 million last year, but the supermarket came after McKeeve for contempt of court over his unusual instruction. It failed in its first attempt, but the Court of Appeal allowed the case to proceed, and McKeeve now faces the possibility of a criminal record and a prison sentence.

McKeeve's barrister, Robert Weekes QC, told the court that McKeeve had been a transactional lawyer for 25 years with little experience of search orders, and had not comprehended what it meant. Weekes said McKeeve was "not driven in any way by a desire to destroy evidence", and that while the "burn" order represented a "serious lapse of judgment", it was a "knee jerk reaction" which did not constitute a criminal offence.

In fact, said McKeeve, his actions were driven by a chivalrous impulse to protect his wife, the former Brexit MEP Belinda de Lucy. The former Jones Day partner explained that in the secure 3CX messaging app used by his TDP clients, de Lucy's name was employed as a pseudonym for Hillary, who at the time was on gardening leave from Ocado.

In an affidavit presented to the court, McKeeve said, "My gut reaction was to try to protect Belinda and my sole concern was to avoid having my wife dragged through a potentially embarrassing high-profile investigation where her name had been used without her consent". If so, it has backfired somewhat.

David Cavender QC, for Ocado, said there weren't many precedents to rely on because there were no records of any solicitor having acted as McKeeve did. 

The hearing continues, although whatever the outcome, TPD has been terrible business for Jones Day - when the grocer collapsed because a planned tie-up with Waitrose went mouldy, Jones Day was the single biggest creditor with outstanding unpaid invoices amounting to £5.5 million. 

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Pauloroberto 01 July 22 07:54

His defence is that he was a corporate lawyer who didn’t know that destroying evidence is frowned upon in litigation. Sounds legit. 

I need more sleep 01 July 22 08:54

Does anyone else's font on their phone make 'burn' look like 'bum'? This story turned out to be a major let down.

Anonymous 01 July 22 09:07

I'm pretty sure that anyone who has ever had any form of interaction with Raymond will have pretty clear view as to the strength and truthfulness of his defence.

Barnsbury 01 July 22 10:49

The thing about a "search order" is that the clue is in the name. It suggests that someone, somewhere is going to search for something, and then do something with whatever they find, and that it's probably quite serious, what with it involving the court and everything.

So upon hearing that a search order has been made, you'd think it would be apparent to the man on the Clapham omnibus or to a moron in a hurry or even to a transactional lawyer that instantly burning everything the order is designed to preserve is probably not what the judge had in mind when making the order. 

And also that failing to comply might well be a contempt of court. What with that rather alarming penal notice on the front of the order that states expressly that a failure to comply will be a contempt of court. 

Anon 01 July 22 10:50

I was discussing this with my office mate - worth noting he is still employed by a couple of law firms who boast about him being "one of the best known private equity lawyers in the City" - true, shame its for the wrong reasons!!!!!

On a more serious note - can we just check that the PE lawyer that no doubt charges clients c. £1k and hour for his time is effectively running a defence that he's a moron?

Hopefully, regardless of the outcome of this case, the SRA will do its job [redacted]... although I suspect the SRA will be more interested in hunting down those trainees that left their briefcase on the train!

Anonymous 01 July 22 13:29

If you ever get to a position in life where your only defence is, “You’ve got to believe me. I really am THAT stupid,” then things really aren’t looking good.

Anon 19.06 01 July 22 19:08

If you don’t comprehend the search order why would  anything you do having received it be a panic. Surely you would calmly think you were acting lawfully and innocently?


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